Shades of Dirt

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have taken me on mission trips around the nation and into surrounding countries. For some, the idea of being dragged from place to place every summer for the better half of their lives seems exhausting and unappealing, but for me, nothing sounds more intriguing, more comfortable, or more like home.

Traveling has always been one of my deepest passions. I love to see new places for the first time: the way the air smells, the color of the ground, and the mixture of noises that roll down the streets are the very first things I notice and document (because one should always document the brown-ness of the dirt when traveling).  I am a sucker for aesthetics, and there really is something beautiful about observing the physical characteristics that make a town, country, or village unique. However, in the midst of God’s extravagantly stunning terrain, there is something about each new place I visit that never fails to captivate me the most: the people.

I have never journeyed to a place where the people weren’t completely and whole-heartedly hospitable to me. Yes, this might sound ridiculously naïve of me to say because, hello, we’re living in a world where people tend to thrive off of nothing but hating, shaming, and ridiculing others. However, I’m here to tell you that, for the most part, people are generally good at their core, at least to those who are sincerely interested in knowing them.

Don’t read me wrong.

I know that there are rotten people in the world. I know that violence, hate, discrimination, and terrorism are real and prevalent today. I know that the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns, and trust me when I say that I know that not everyone is nice, accepting, or honest. I know that the media reports more on arbitrary acts of brutality than random acts of kindness. I know all of these things and understand them to be true, but I also know that warmth and sincerity are appreciated. I know that compassion and generosity do not go unnoticed by their recipients. I know that, by taking the time to truly get to know someone, strangers can be made family.

I could tell you a hundred stories about the mission trips I have gone on, the places I have seen, or the shades of dirt that I have written about in my travel journals, but the thing that I feel most passionately about today is hospitality. Being hospitable is most commonly associated with the idea that one should welcome others into their homes, feed them, and care for them when they are in need, and while that association is appropriate, it isn’t exactly the only way of showing hospitality to others. Hospitality can be as simple as welcoming a stranger into a conversation, showing kindness to the driver who can’t pick a lane, or accepting the fact that someone else can hold an opposing opinion on politics. Showing hospitality isn’t difficult. It isn’t costly or even that time consuming. It’s important, it’s cherished, and it has the power to change someone’s world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2

Written by Haley

Image credit: Haley Briggs

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He Met Me In St. Louis

I know who you are.

You were raised in the church. Your parents sent you to Sunday school fifty-two weeks out of the year, signed you up for every children’s and youth event, and prayed with and for you nearly every day of your life.

You’ve been baptized, probably before the age of nine. You don’t quite remember the details surrounding the day you prayed the ABC prayer because life after that prayer doesn’t feel much different than life before. You still go to church, read the Bible, and pray, but that has always been true.

You don’t really like to share your testimony. It’s not interesting. There was no drastic, world-rocking change. It feels incomplete sometimes, like it never really happened. Occasionally, although you don’t really admit it to anyone, you wish that God had come to you in another way. Other times you secretly wonder if he ever came to you at all. But you ignore those thoughts when they arise; you dismiss the strange, churning nag that something somewhere is a little off. Because why would it be? You aren’t just a Christian; you’re a called, dedicated Christian who, on most days tries to pursue Christ.

I know who you are because, until December of 2015, I was just like you.

I spent my last years of high school and the first years of college trying to reconcile the confusing pieces of my Christian life. On one hand, I doubted my relationship with God; on the other hand, there were moments that I couldn’t ascribe to anything apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. By the time I made my way to St. Louis for the Urbana 15 Mission Conference, I was at the breaking point of my spiritual chaos. In the most hidden part of my heart, I secretly delivered God an ultimatum for that week in St. Louis: Either you are everything I thought you were, or you do not exist at all. I no longer cared which one turned out to be true, but if God was really there, I needed him to meet me in St. Louis.

One morning, half-way through the week, David Platt got up in front of 16,000 conference attendees to talk about the impossible task of manufacturing a heart for missions, and delivered God’s response to my demand. “You can’t create yourself a heart for missions…and you can’t manufacture your own heart for Christ, either. Only He can do that.”

That was my problem and I knew it. I didn’t know how; I couldn’t explain it. My life in the church, my years of prayer, my countless hours of ministry, my sincere desire to follow Christ in life and in missions—it no longer seemed sufficient.

I spent the rest of the day arguing back and forth with the Lord, who whispered honest replies of Truth. The conversation went something like this:

“But God,” I reasoned, “I thought you called me into missions. Why would you do that if you are not already the Lord of my life?”

The Spirit gently reminded me, I never change my mind about anything. Your surrender cannot quiet my call. But I still want your surrender all the same.

“But God,” I asked later, “all these years I believed you were speaking to me, comforting me, convicting me. If that wasn’t really your hand at work, what was it?”

Everything I have ever done in your life was done for the purpose of drawing you to me, he explained. Everything I will ever do throughout the remainder of your life will be for the same purpose.

“But God,” I pleaded, exasperated from my failed justification, “I can’t even name what exactly I’m holding back from you.”

He answered leaving me no room for excuse: It doesn’t matter. I want every piece of you. Just give me everything.

So I did. It was then that I discovered that my ultimatum earlier in the week was altogether false. Of course God exists, but thankfully he is not everything I thought he was. The God I met in St. Louis is bigger and stronger and more loving than my self-made image of him ever could have been. Doubts no longer creep into my mind. My call to missions is clearer than ever before. My prayers are more frequent and sincere, my study of Scripture no longer brings empty results, and my shortcomings have ceased to define my status with the King.

So, like I said, I know who you are. And I know who you can become.

I write this because you need to know that you aren’t the only one asking the questions you’re asking or doubting the things you’re doubting. I write this because God wouldn’t let me write anything else until I let you know that you are not alone.

Throughout the conference, there was repeated emphasis on the truth that for Jesus to truly be Lord of your life, you must give all of yourself to him. Before December 30, Jesus wasn’t really Lord of my all. That night I gave Jesus the rest of me so that he could finally have all of me. If Jesus isn’t the reigning Monarch of every single aspect of your existence, no amount of lordship in any other area of your life will ever be enough to make up for that. He is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

Goldfish and Sea Turtles

Today, I want to tell you about one of the most wonderful weeks of my life; but first, you’ll need a little background. As a child, I grew up a missionary kid (MK) in the country of Brazil. If this sounds awesome to you, congratulations. You are correct; it was. Nonetheless, my family and I moved back to America when I was in the eighth grade, right in the middle of Justin Beiber’s heyday. As you might imagine, it was a really tough transition and I’ve never been the same. To this day, I struggle fitting in with American culture. Consequently, I jump at any opportunity to visit Brazil and did just that last November. I was thrilled to help lead a camp for some of the MKs currently residing in Brazil, and it was an absolute blast. Camp was in the city of Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, which is a beautiful island off the southeastern coast. It was fun, exciting, and nostalgic for me because I remember participating in the very same camp over eight years ago. I led camp for the teenagers, along with some help from a few college students who were short term missionaries. In the morning we had Bible lessons, activities, and crafts, and in the afternoon we went swimming, went to the beach, or played games outside. Since November is summertime in Brazil, we spent a lot of time outdoors at the beach and at the pool.  During the Bible lessons, I created some challenges for the kids where they could win prizes from a snack box, and let me tell you – they were very competitive! One of my favorite things about the trip was bringing them American gifts and snacks that they missed. Some of the most requested items were Snickers candy bars, Cheeze-Its, Goldfish, fruit snacks, Kit Kats, Reeses, and Rice Krispy Treats. It’s amazing how simple things that Americans often take for granted bring so much joy to MKs.

One of the hardest things about being a missionary kid is the tremendous amount of responsibility you are faced with at very early age. Being constantly concerned about safety, not attracting too much attention as a foreigner (even though you may not feel like a foreigner because of how well you’ve adjusted), and experiencing firsthand the kind of sacrifice that Jesus asks of us to “go and make disciples of all nations” are just a few of the challenges missionary kids face. Having a week of relaxation at camp where you get to be a kid again and also speak English is really important to MKs.  Our main goal was to encourage and bless them, and I think we succeeded. They had a whole lot of fun and went home encouraged and refreshed. Their joyful attitudes were convicting and yet encouraging to me, and I’m confident that I learned more from them than they did from me! I was reminded once again how blessed I am, not only to live in a country like America, but to have been an MK in Brazil. I really miss living in Brazil, and so it was absolutely wonderful for me to return and serve.

After the first week, my friends showed me around Florianópolis. Since the city is on an island, I got to participate in typical beach culture activities. I went sand boarding for the first time (essentially snowboarding down a sand dune bigger than a two-story house), which was totally awesome but terrifying. And you can bet your life that I spent many, many hours at the beach swimming, riding the waves, and hanging out with friends. Also, I now have a great, albeit humiliating, story about falling flat on my face right in front a super attractive Brazilian lifeguard. Then, I played this game called how-much-seafood-is-it-humanly-possible-to-eat-before-I-have-to-leave. (Side note: I think I won.)  Although I didn’t get to hike through the jungle-covered mountains, I did get a lot of good pictures of monkeys and sea turtles. There is an incredible wildlife organization in Florianópolis called Projeto Tamar that helps protect endangered sea turtles, and visiting it was possibly one of the neatest things I have ever experienced.

SEA TURTLE OMG

I know that traveling is hard as a college student because, hello, college students usually don’t have an overabundance of cash. But really, if you get a chance, step outside your comfort zone. Go somewhere new. Experience different cultures. Take lots of photos. There is no better time to explore the world than right now, because the quantity and quality of responsibility usually grows exponentially with age. I hope you take advantage of opportunities to see the world through a new cultural lens. I promise you will be a better person for it, and you’ll have those memories for the rest of your life.

Written by Carilee

Photo credits: Carilee Fore

Seeking Happiness in Him

This past summer, I was given an extraordinary opportunity to visit one of my favorite places in the world: Juarez, Mexico. Some of you are probably wondering how I could possibly find Juarez appealing, and that’s okay. Juarez, according to most news articles, is one of the deadliest cities in Mexico; however, I am writing this to tell you differently.

When I was in the fourth grade, my church took a mission trip to Juarez. It was my first trip out of the country and only the second mission trip that my family had ever taken, so we were ecstatic to see what the Lord had in store for us. As a child, I got in the habit of thinking that everybody had the same lifestyle as me. While my family juarezhad never been rich, we had always had food on our table and a roof over our heads, which were necessities that I had assumed everyone possessed. I thought that I knew everything about the world around me; however, my perspective on life drastically changed the moment I stepped foot on Juarez soil.

After sliding out of the church van, I looked around in awe of my surroundings. Surrounding “La Missíon,” the Christ-centered community center that we were doing construction on, was a trench that overflowed with waste and debris. On the other side of the trench was a giant hill, lined with small houses made of adobe and brick. To a fourth grader, these houses hardly seemed fit to use as storage units, let alone homes. Little did I know, these were the most luxurious houses in the neighborhood. While the owners of these “houses” were blessed with somewhat sturdy foundations, durable walls, and reliable roofs, thousands of their neighbors made use with whatever cardboard, trash, and plastic tarps that they could find. Their living situations were worse than anything I had ever seen, yet many of the people in Juarez possessed more joy than any of my friends or family at home.

This concept overwhelmed me at the time. How could these people, who have little to nothing, be so content? How could they find enough joy to sing as they walk miles without shoes to find water? Where did this spirit come from? Finally, after re-visiting Juarez for several years in a row, I have found the answer to these questions.

boysThe abundance of love and life that overflows from the heart of Juarez is capable only of coming from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Their happiness does not come from worldly possessions but by the promises made to them by God, our Father.

So my question for you today is this: Are you happy?

Today’s society seeks happiness through success. Often times, we find ourselves thinking things like, “If I could just get that new IPhone, Mustang, or Michael Kors watch, my life would be so much better.” The more we have, the happier we are, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

While owning these items may cause us temporary happiness, they will never be able to bring complete satisfaction. In fact, there is nothing on this world that has the power to truly satisfy, except for Jesus Christ.

So today, I encourage you to take a look at your life from a different perspective. Be grateful for the little things: running water, nourishment, and literacy are possessions that we take for granted way too often. Enjoy the blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon you, but remember to seek ultimate happiness in Him.

Written by Haley

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21